Gov. Quinn, State Employee Union Reach Deal After 15 Months of Talks

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According to an article from the Chicago Sun-Times, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's administration and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, the union that represents about 35,000 state works, finally reached a tentative deal this Thursday. The state and the union had been in negotiations for 15 months before reaching a deal regarding a brand new contract for the workers.

Here are some facts and details about the announcement, including comments from both sides and the next steps that will be taken:

* The Associated Press reported that with ongoing and heated talks between the two parties, AFSCME union members had begun to prepare for a strike.

* The governor's administration had sought to reduce retirement benefits for state employees, a move the union fiercely opposed, in light of Illinois' ongoing pension issues.

* State employees had been working without a contract since this past November after the original contract expired on June 30, 2012 but was given an extension amid the negotiations, reported the State Journal-Register.

* The state extended the union's contract three times over the past 11 months.

* The new contract announced today will last for three years before negotiations are set to take place again.

* In addition to cutting retirement benefits, the state administration wanted to freeze wages during the talks along with demanding employees contribute more to their own health insurance.

* Gov. Quinn had previously promised $60 million in unpaid wage increases, which led to a court ruling this past December that said that even though the General Assembly hadn't appropriated the funds, the governor's administration could not go back on the wages terms of the contract.

* AFSCME fought back against those demands, arguing that it would reduce significantly employee's take-home salaries.

* Regardless, the state maintained that union members still make on average $10,000 more each year than state employees in other states, including Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan.

* According to the Chicagoist, both sides seemed content with the agreement. Gov. Quinn said, "At a time when the state is facing unprecedented financial challenges, this agreement is fair to both hard-working state employees and all taxpayers of Illinois."

* Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31 commented that the union was "pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that protects our members' standard of living, and is fair to them and all Illinois citizens, even in these very challenging economic times."

* The next step is for union members to ratify the agreement by March 4, at which time the union has said it will release more details about the specific provisions in the contract.

Rachel Bogart provides an in-depth look at current environmental issues and local Chicago news stories. Currently pursuing her master's degree in environmental science, she applies her knowledge and passion to both topics to garner further public awareness.

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